My Visiting Neighbors

I would like to tell you a love story. I am not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I consider the women of your church as my sisters. The two main reasons I feel that way are Leora Duke and Loraine Stoddard.

Shortly after my husband and I moved to Farmington, Utah, a few years ago, those two ladies appeared at our door. They delivered the following statement—all in one breath, if I remember correctly:

“Hi! We’re Loraine and Leora, your neighbors and visiting teachers from the LDS Church. We’d like to visit with you monthly—with or without a spiritual message, whichever you prefer but we would like to come by to be sure that you and your family are okay.”

Up to this point, my experience with any type of visiting Mormon had been less than positive. Young and somewhat intolerant myself, I felt Mormons were rigid and pushy, so previous visitors were never invited to come a second time.

Now, out of the blue, on my front porch stood two Latter-day Saint women absolutely radiating warmth, love, acceptance, and concern. Anyone with a sliver of intuitive feeling could tell they were not phonies. I didn’t understand at all. Why should they care about me or my family?

Apparently, though, Loraine and Leora did care, for they kept coming back—just for a visit, as I requested. I fully expected them to lose interest. It wasn’t easy for them to find me home. My schedule was frantic and unpredictable. But their efforts and the way they totally accepted me made me begin looking forward to their visits.

These two loving neighbors of mine helped me through some of the worst crises of my life—some associated with a remarriage and the merging of two families, and others of a completely different and deeply personal nature.

When Leora and Loraine began visiting me, I was an active, drinking alcoholic, unaware that I had the disease. They prayed, with me and for me, during the long months when I struggled to overcome my addiction and finally began to get well. And they kept my situation in perfect confidentiality.

Without comment or judgment these two beautiful ladies endured my alcoholic behavior, my cigarette smoke, objectionable language, and opinions that might well have been offensive to them. With great love, which surely must be inspired by God, they overcame my closed-minded attitudes about Mormons. I began to feel like an accepted member of my largely LDS community. I now had neighbors and friends, who just happened to be my visiting teachers.

Had Loraine or Leora’s approach on that first visit, or on any subsequent ones, seemed in the least insincere, I can assure you there would have been no more visits. But never once did I get the feeling they were coming over just to fulfill an obligation.

It has now been several years since Leora and Loraine have been my visiting teachers, and it has been several years since I have had to indulge in alcohol. But I will always remember the help of both of those sisters in my recovery. They remain my friends.

They never judged me.

They never condemned me.

They never betrayed me through gossip, which would have surely made my recovery longer and more difficult. They always respected my request that they omit the spiritual message, and they accepted the fact that I was quite happy as a member of another religion.

All they really did was love me and accept me, and in my book, that was a mighty big order.

From Loraine and Leora I began to learn tolerance, which I consider to be a great benefit of my middle age. I’m pleased to have lost the tendency to judge everyone I meet within sixty seconds.

So, despite the fact that I refused the official visiting teaching lesson, I learned through their example the higher lessons of love, tolerance, and acceptance.

[illustration] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh

Nonie Gilbert, a free-lance writer and mother of four, is Public Relations Director of the Utah Alcoholism Foundation and a volunteer worker for Davis County Family and Community Mental Health Drug and Alcohol Abuse Center.